Great Mythologies of the World

Course No. 2380
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Course No. 2380
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Plunge into the epic battles and vengeful gods of Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia.
  • numbers Examine what makes the stories of Asia and the Pacific so distinct - and so able to withstand the test of time.
  • numbers Study how the mythologies of Africa served as entertainment and as vessels for both history and life lessons.
  • numbers Examine the folklore and mythology of north and central American indigenous people, from the Inuits to the Aztecs.

Course Overview

Mythology has provided fascinating and thrilling stories that are central to our lives, even today. The deep-seated origins and wide-reaching lessons of ancient myths built the foundation for our modern-day legacies. Serving as entertainment, a means to bond, a way to pass along history, and as vessels for important lessons, morals, and rules, myths are prevalent in every civilization worldwide.

In Great Mythologies of the World, you’ll travel through space and time to access some of the greatest myths in history from Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. You’ll examine what makes these famous stories so important, distinctive, and able to withstand the test of time. You’ll also discover how, despite geographical implausibilities, many myths from across the oceans share themes, morals, and archetypes.

Four esteemed professors, each a renowned expert in their fields, will transport you to exotic locations and ancient civilizations in this 60-lecture series. You’ll become immersed in the geographies and cultures each section features, aided by dazzling visuals, images, photos, maps, and graphics. This course is a feast for the eyes and the mind.  

Dr. Kathryn McClymond, Chair and Professor of the Department of Religious Studies at Georgia State University, kicks off your journey. She highlights different aspects of the classic Western myths you may have heard of, and introduces you to a world of mythology that may be new to you. Author of two books and numerous academic articles, Professor McClymond is an ideal guide to lead you through the epic battles and vengeful gods of Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia.

Dr. Julius H. Bailey, Professor of Religion at the University of Redlands, then guides you through the complex and fascinating world of African mythology. Professor Bailey is a sought-after expert in the fields of African mythology and African-American religious history.

Then travel to Asia and the islands of the Pacific Ocean with Dr. Robert André LaFleur, Professor of History and Anthropology at Beloit College. The mythologies of Asia and the Pacific are vibrant and eloquent, and you won’t find a better guide than Professor LaFleur. His current work combines historical research using Chinese, Japanese, and Korean sources with anthropological fieldwork on each of China’s five sacred mountains.

You’ll conclude your global journey in the Americas, studying folklore and mythology of north and central American indigenous people, led by Dr. Grant L. Voth, Professor Emeritus at Monterey Peninsula College. Professor Voth is the author of more than 30 articles and books and a popular Great Courses professor.

Ancient Europe

Epic battles between titanic gods. Perilous quests for lost treasures and the comfort of home. Magical items imbued with the power to protect—and destroy. The great myths of ancient Europe are a treasure trove of stories that have transfixed us for thousands of years.

But whether it’s the near-impossible labors of the ancient Greek hero Herakles, the violent founding of Rome by the wolf-raised brothers Romulus and Remus, or the cosmic exploits of the hammer-wielding Norse thunder god Thor, there’s so much more to ancient Europe’s myths than just entertainment and wonder. When looked at closely, these tales actually open wide windows on the cultures that produced them. They reveal how ancient Greeks, Romans, Scandinavians, and other European civilizations:

  • saw themselves in relation to the natural and cosmic world;
  • gave direction, value, and purpose to their everyday lives;
  • made sense of social, historical, and philosophical concerns; and even
  • laid the narrative groundwork for the future of Western literature.


“Rich myth traditions are like the land under an important historical site,” says Professor Kathryn McClymond, an expert in religion and narrative at Georgia State University. “Careful archaeology reveals layer after layer of human experience, reflecting everything from a king’s lofty dreams to a common woman’s daily routine.”

Now, in Great Mythologies of the World: Ancient Europe, join this renowned expert for an extended dig into the deepest layers of Western myths, legends, and folktales. Over the span of 12 fascinating lectures, you’ll dive into entertaining stories of warriors, gods, monarchs, and monsters with an eye toward capturing why these particular stories are so critical to our understanding of the distant past, and why they still speak to our lives today—long after the civilizations that produced them have disappeared. As vibrant and engaging as the myths they explore, Professor McClymond’s lectures offer new insights into the creation stories of Western civilization.

Gods, Heroes, Magic, and More

How was the world created, and who was responsible for creating it? How were great empires born and nurtured? Why are certain spiritual beliefs held and rituals practiced? In essence: Why do we live the way we do? Myths are the tools ancient cultures used to answer these and other profound existential questions, and in this course you’ll explore some of the greatest stories the Greeks, Romans, and Europeans told in an effort to make sense of the world.

Each lecture of Great Mythologies of the World: Ancient Europe focuses on a particular myth or series of mythological ideas. Professor McClymond, with storytelling prowess that makes these lectures a delight to listen to, transports you back in time and allows you to experience for yourself the excitement and drama of these wildly entertaining stories. But you’ll do more than just enjoy the content of these myths; you’ll get a historian’s understanding of how they shaped and influenced daily life for the people who saw them as more than just tall tales.

  • Prometheus’s daring theft: The tale of Prometheus stealing fire from the Greek gods is one of several that, more than others, demonstrates just how intertwined are the fates of gods and men in ancient Greek thought. You’ll investigate how different versions of the story cast Prometheus as a liberator of men—or just a hot-tempered troublemaker.
  • Jason’s epic quest: Come to see the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts as a somewhat darker, more melancholic version of Odysseus’s journey back to Ithaca; one that reflects the rise of Roman rule in ancient Greece. Rather than thinking of Jason as just another hero, you’ll learn to see him as the hero that could have been but never was.
  • Odin’s great sacrifice: At the top of the Norse pantheon is Odin: a judge, a shaman, and a fighter constantly driven by his desire to overcome evil. What was gained by his dramatic self-sacrifice on the cosmic tree Yggdrasil, and how did it solidify his role as “All-Father” and leader of other Norse gods (including the best-known of them, Thor)?
  • Dagda’s magic harp: Irish mythology is often overshadowed by that of ancient Greece and Rome, but it contains a plethora of fantastic adventures and characters. Among the ones you’ll explore is the myth of Dagda, a warrior from an ancient race of beings whose magical oak harp could cause people to behave in particular ways, and could even order the seasons.

If you’re familiar with some of these myths, prepare to think about them in new ways. If these are new to you, you’ll quickly understand why they still endure.

A Foundation for Further Exploration

Great Mythologies of the World: Ancient Europe is designed, above all, to give you a comprehensive understanding of how myths relate to human experience. Professor McClymond takes care to ground each of the great myths she covers in well-rounded detail: citing the literary and oral traditions behind them, pondering contradictory accounts and differing variations, and stressing the cultural legacies these ancient perspectives have in contemporary music, literature, and film.

So whether you’re learning about

  • the connective tissues between Persephone and Pandora,
  • the evolution of the “mother goddess” in various mythological traditions, or
  • the Stone of Fal and other magical treasures from Celtic folktales,

you’re always in the hands of an instructor attuned to the power and importance of myth on the human experience.

“It’s hard not to feel we’ve just barely scratched the surface,” Professor McClymond says of her course. “But we’ve laid a foundation that will enable you to explore further ancient Greek, Roman, and European myth traditions.”

The Middle East and South Asia

No true understanding of world mythology—its deep-seated origins, its wide-reaching stories, its modern-day legacies—is complete without an understanding of Middle Eastern and South Asian mythology. In fact, most of what makes these myths so important is just how distinctive they are.

Unlike their Western counterparts, meaning-making stories from Babylon, Egypt, Persia, India, and other countries are defined by:

  • more fluid interactions between the everyday and the divine,
  • a more potent sense of place and a connection with specific landscapes,
  • an abiding tension between the wilderness and civilization, and
  • a stronger emphasis on how gender and power shape social roles.

It’s the distinct personality of myths from this part of the world, and their relative unfamiliarity to those of us in the West, that make them so fascinating to explore. And in Great Mythologies of the World: The Middle East and South Asia, renowned Professor Kathryn McClymond of Georgia State University guides you through some of the most important tales. Focusing specifically on stories that blur the line between myth, history, religion, and philosophy, Professor McClymond’s 12 lectures offer a stirring look at the role mythology plays in this part of the world. How have stories from the Ramayana, One Thousand and One Nights, and more shaped both individuals and entire social movements? What can the adventures of Egyptian gods, Old Testament everymen, and ancient Persian princes tell us about how life was lived in these parts of the world? What do they share with other myths from the East and West? More than just introducing you to the region’s great myths, this highly entertaining course takes you deep inside the mindset of places and times in history foreign to many of us.

Ancient Myths—From the Short to the Epic

From short tales to epic poems five times the length of Homer’s Iliad, mythological tales from the Middle East and Asia offer you the chance to plunge into unfamiliar worlds and discover the heart and soul of how ancient people lived, felt, and interpreted their societies. Featuring a cast of troubled heroes, vengeful gods, all-powerful rulers, warring princes, and mysterious spirits, these exciting lectures help you navigate myths that thrived during the glories of the Babylonian Empire, the reign of the Egyptian pharaohs, the time of the Buddha, and more.

  • The epic of Gilgamesh: Why has the Babylonian hero story of an ancient king, his companion, and their battles with ogres and seductive goddesses endured for over 4,000 years? What can we learn by going back to the five ancient poems that serve as this epic’s foundation?
  • The Ramayana: One of the greatest epics of Indian culture is the Ramayana (“the doings of Ram”), and Professor McClymond reveals how the title hero’s challenges in becoming king of an ancient town are, in truth, an extended morality tale about the Hindu virtue of obedience.
  • The Book of Kings: Mixing history and fiction, The Book of Kings (Shahnameh) is best read as an anthology of Iran’s kings and heroes—with some liberties allowed to include magical creatures and powers in its depiction of ancient Persia’s mythical, heroic, and historical ages.
  • Tales from The Arabian Nights: Discover how the adventures of Sindhbad the Sailor, Aladdin, Ali Baba, and other treasured stories from the elaborately constructed One Thousand and One Nights sparked themes and motifs that would reappear in later European fairy tales.

Along with these and other myths, you’ll examine stories that can also be read as myths, even though we’re more likely to think of them as religious or philosophical texts. Among them:

  • the Book of Job, which, when looked at from a mythological perspective, challenges us to rethink our place in the world (and our suffering) by viewing it from a cosmic perspective;
  • the teachings of the Buddha, which spread so widely throughout India, Sri Lanka, China, and Japan that its mythological teachings began to reflect distinctive elements of each culture; and
  • the lives of the pharaohs, whose mythological aspects (even embedded in their royal titles) tended to hammer home their divine right to sustain order in ancient Egypt.

Discover the Joy of Cultural Storytelling

With the same captivating storytelling powers and intellectual insights that have earned her numerous teaching accolades (including Georgia State University’s College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award), Professor McClymond brings familiar and unfamiliar stories to vivid life. Her knowledge of world mythology is superb, and her wonder at how early communities explained the world and imparted knowledge is undeniably contagious.

With Great Mythologies of the World: The Middle East and South Asia, you’ll fill a critical gap in your understanding of how human civilizations have relied on mythology—regardless of where they emerge. And in the process, you’ll also discover the sheer joy of imaginative cultural storytelling.


No course on world mythology is complete without considering the stories of Africa. While you may be familiar with some of the more well-known characters such as the spider Anansi, Great Mythologies of the World: Africa will explore a plethora of lesser-known characters and tales that seem remarkably familiar because the themes and lessons have permeated through great myths worldwide. Discover the fascinating variety and complexity of African myths, and meet the rich cultures that produced them.

The Mother of All Mythology

You could consider African myths as the mother of all mythology, as many of the African stories date back centuries before the better-known myths of Greek and Rome. Although initially maligned as “primitive,” African mythology is overflowing with the types of brave heroes, beautiful maidens, fearsome battles, mischievous tricksters, and captivating tales of triumph and heartbreak that are the foundation for all of the dramatic stories, fairytales, and fables we know and love today. Ripe with deep thought and cherished ideals of civilization, African mythology has had a profound impact on how our world has come to be.

Explore how African mythology shares, and likely inspired, many of the themes found in myths worldwide. Origin stories, tricksters, tales of vengeance, and other well-known patterns woven through the tapestry of stories worldwide can be traced back to some of the first known myths from Africa. We’ll look in depth at Africa’s great epic tradition, and how the dramatic and powerful stories were actually performed. In addition to examining how African storytelling inspired myths across nations and centuries, even up to our modern-day soap operas, we’ll also compare characters, stories, and themes from all over the continent, including myths of the Soninke people of West Africa, the Maasai of Kenya in the East, the Berbers of Algeria and Morocco in the North, and the San people of Africa’s South.

Humanity and Gods

The relationship between humanity and the gods in African mythology is complex. While the same fundamental questions about life exist across each society, their understandings of the nature of gods tends to govern the answers that appear in their stories. In some African myths, the creator god or spirits initially have a close relationship with humanity, but later distance themselves from their creations. In other stories, the creator remains aloof or distant from the start. The way in which the sacred pervades everyday life in African cultures makes people’s relationship with the divine especially immediate, intimate, and powerful, but as we’ll see, that doesn’t mean that the relationship is free of tension and conflict.

Although the supreme creator god in African religions is usually remote from humanity, lesser divinities are often heavily involved in human affairs. In this course, you’ll examine the wide range of African deities, from the fierce and vengeful god Shango of the Yoruba people, to the kindly Baganda goddess Nambi, who marries a mortal, to the mysterious and unpredictable djinn who appear in tales from Africa’s north. The interactions between African gods and mortals express many different ways of conceiving of the relationship between mortal life and the divine.

How African Myths Address the “Big” Questions

African mythology, like the myths of most peoples, reflects a deep concern with death, raising questions that seem common to all humanity: Why do we have to die? Do we deserve death? Can we bring back our lost loved ones? In myths concerning death, some of African mythology’s greatest wisdom and most striking imagery are on display. As in the Bible, many African myths tell of a brief period after creation when human beings enjoyed immortality. Invariably, though, something occurs that destroys that idyllic situation—often, human disobedience. In this way, the stories seem to serve at least partly to underscore the importance of following divine instructions and adhering carefully to communal law. To grasp the meaning of much of African mythology and place it in proper context, we need to understand the religious cosmology within which African myths developed and the perspectives on the world that shaped them. However, phenomenal diversity exists among African religions, even now that Christianity and Islam are firmly rooted on the continent. Further, Westerners may have difficulty making sense of African religious beliefs because African societies tends to blur the boundaries between the secular and the sacred in ways that Western religions do not. Nevertheless, we can identify a number of attributes in African cosmology that can serve as guideposts in our explorations.

The Hero’s Quest: An Everlasting Theme

In African mythology, as in myths around the world, it’s not uncommon to find characters traveling to the land of the dead to face an ultimate challenge and experiencing a transformation as a result. One genre of myths focuses on the deeds of culture heroes—usually male figures who are said to have played key roles in the founding of societies or who otherwise distinguished themselves in their peoples’ past. Although it’s often impossible to know whether a particular culture hero ever existed, such stories offer tantalizing hints at how certain societies may have taken shape. And fact-based or not, they inevitably capture something essential about the characters of the societies that tell them. Explore a number of culture hero stories, ranging from those that are probably highly fictionalized to those that seem much more historically plausible.

Asia and the Pacific

The sun goddess, Amaterasu, has hidden herself from the world, and must be coaxed back by the spirit of unbridled joy. After a terrible flood, a sister and brother must rely upon their animal companions to make a perilous journey to bring back life-preserving fire. The herd boy and the weaving maiden, star-crossed lovers, must wait until the seventh day of the seventh month to reunite, the one day each year that they may spend together. These and many other intriguing tales are explored in Great Mythologies of the World: Asia and the Pacific, a compelling journey through Eastern mythologies. Your guide is Professor Robert LaFleur, an award-winning Professor of History and Anthropology at Beloit College in Wisconsin.

The mythologies of East Asia and the Pacific contain an astonishing array of cultural and historical themes. The variety among them is influenced by differences in geography, history, and means of transmission from one generation to the next. For example, the highly complex cultures that created thousands of years of written tradition in mainland China had different challenges and resources from people who lived comparatively unstructured lives on coral atolls in the Pacific and were guided by oral traditions for millennia. Despite these differences, there are also overarching motifs that appear again and again across centuries and vast distances, linking these traditions together.

Society and Sacrifice in a Watery World

The three most significant and ubiquitous themes in these myths are social networks, sacrifice, and the omnipresence of water. From China’s Yellow River Valley to the vast Pacific Ocean surrounding Japan, Australia, and the islands comprising Polynesia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Micronesia, and Melanesia; and from the ice and snow of Korea to the cross-cultural conception of the Milky Way as a great river across the sky, water is everywhere, in daily life and in the stories of these civilizations. The importance of effective and cooperative social structure in surviving this watery world is underscored time and again:

  • in the Chinese stories of Fu Xi and other early culture heroes, who teach early humans to descend from the trees and make fire and other tools;
  • in the Hawaiian stories of Ku and Hina working together to provide and secure bountiful seas and fertile fields to feed their hungry people;
  • in the Melanesian tale of Qat’s instructions to his brothers on how to accustom themselves to his gift of the rhythms of night and day.

The idea that self-sacrifice is sometimes required to create something valuable or to save others is another prevalent theme throughout the region:

  • in the myth of the cosmic spider of Micronesia, the worm that lifts the vault of heaven dies of exertion;
  • in the story of Shennong, Chinese god of agriculture, who creates for his people a catalog of safe and hazardous foods, poisoning himself over and over in the process;
  • even in children’s stories, such as the tale of a snowman that throws itself onto a fire to save its creators.

Points of Divergence and Convergence with World Traditions

An important factor to consider when studying mythology is the method of transmission from generation to generation: are these stories part of an oral tradition, were they originally recited and then recorded late in their history, or are they part of an ancient written tradition? Like many parts of Europe, South Asia, and the Middle East, China has a written history extending back for millennia, and this history includes foundational myths. Korea and Japan also have mythological accounts that are hundreds of years old, but an enormous amount of time passed between the original telling of the myths and when they were first recorded. These collections were written in classical Chinese and were deeply influenced by waves of cultural borrowing from China, leading to questions of how original Korean and Japanese elements may be separated from Chinese influence. In Micronesia, Polynesia, Melanesia, Indonesia, and Australia, the question of cultural authenticity is even more fraught; every word we hear about their ancient tales was written down in Western languages, by missionaries, anthropologists, traders, and colonial officials. None of these societies created a system of writing, so their mythology had been made up of a constantly regenerating oral tradition. All of these vibrant, constantly evolving myths were written down, and sometimes profoundly altered, by outsiders, and they became frozen in time. This situation is also common in many parts of Africa and the Americas.

There are also insights to be gained in comparing common thematic elements. Some of the central questions found in the mythology of Europe and the Americas do not seem to be nearly as important to the cultures here. For example, many Asian and Pacific origin stories begin with the world already in place, moving right along to issues of how people gained tools and created societies. A Western audience might wonder who created the world, and where the people come from, but these myths focus on how human institutions and technology were carved from the raw, inchoate, dangerous material of nature. From this region, only Japan’s tales of Izanagi and Izanami follow the Western tradition of creating solid land from amorphous matter. On the other hand, repair of the world, and the sky in particular, is a theme that occurs all across Asia and the Pacific: pillars, snails, worms, and deities all are depicted as pushing up a low heaven over an inhabited earth, and after that push, the world starts to look more like our own. This theme of sky repair is also found in African mythology.

Mythology all over the world is a linking of disparate ideas—already present in social and cultural life—that is then patched together by a storyteller in various kinds of innovation, creating something new and often profound. The dynamics of written and oral traditions, as well as the watery world of the Pacific and notions of social order and sacrifice, dominate these intriguing myths.

The Americas

When we consider the “Great Myths of Western Civilization,” we tend to initially consider the Greek and Roman gods, and all the many fascinating and epic stories that came out of this canon. It may be surprising to learn that the Americas are also steeped in a rich history of mythologies, although we tend to use a different vernacular to describe them.

There are thousands of fables and folklore stories told by hundreds of peoples spread across North, Central, and South America that have endured the test of time. The Penobscot, Cherokee, Blackfoot, Natchez, Seminole, Hopi, Inuit, Huron, and others were geographically diverse, yet they spun stories with astonishingly similar details and themes. These fables performed all the same functions that myths do across the world: they help address fundamental questions such as where do we come from, how did we get here, what is the world like, and what do we need to do to survive.

Commonalities across the Lands

Despite differences in location and cultures, there are values and ideas that span the scope of Native American stories. Great Mythologies of the World: The Americas takes a deep dive into the commonalities and differences that were found in these widespread mythologies, including:

  • The notion that nature is sacred, and the tradition of animism (the idea that everything is both alive and holy), is a theme that permeates stories from all over the continents. This worldview is strikingly different from our own modern thought, and provides us with an opportunity to reframe the way we conceptualize the relationship between humans, animals, plants, and even landforms like mountains and rivers.
  • Creation stories, which are divided into “earth-diver” and “emergence” myths. The former conceive of the world beginning as a primordial sea, with creatures diving to the bottom to bring up mud to form the earth. The latter envision a series of worlds stacked on top of each other beneath the surface of the earth, with creatures from the bottom levels climbing higher and becoming more humanlike as they ascend.
  • The archetype of the Trickster, who isn’t really evil—just thoughtless, impulsive, and self-serving. However, the Trickster is often also a cultural hero and provides significant contributions to creation.

The role that the oral history of the Native American myths played, and continues to play, is an important part of how we understand the cultures today. Stories were told over and over, through centuries, and were passed down to children to teach values and traditions. This tradition means that the same story told by five different tellers in different situations results in five different stories. Much like a fossil of a paw print, we have the idea of what the animal might look like based on the impression, but we have nothing of the animal itself. The versions we know happened to be collected, translated, and recorded by anthropologists, which may also account for some of the inconsistencies in detail. Looking at multiple versions of the same story and comparing the details can provide insight into which aspects of culture are most important or most solidly fixed, and which aspects might be less important or more fluid. As Professor Voth states, “Each myth brings us closer to a more comprehensive and inclusive conception of what it meant and what it means to be human.”

Meet a Diverse Cast of Characters

Each section is organized by ecological or geographical region. You’ll travel from the Arctic and northern forest regions, to eastern woodlands, the Southeast, the Plains, and the Southwest. This course also explores myths of the Maya and Aztecs from Mesoamerica and the Inca of the Andes region of South America. Each lecture focuses on the types of myth that characterize these nations and the values manifest in them. As you travel across the nation, you’ll meet enriching characters including:

Awonawilona: The All-Father of the Zuni, who contains everything within himself and generated Earth Mother and Sky Father, who then shaped the world.

Bear Woman: Figure who appears frequently in the stories of Northwest Native Americans. In one version told by the Haida (from the islands off the coast of British Columbia and Alaska), her name is Rhpisunt.

Buffalo Woman: Figure in a myth of the Arikara who shows a young man how to transform the buffalo people into real animals.

Coyote: A creator, culture hero, and trickster in the myths of several Native American peoples, including the Crow, the Navajo, the Hopi, and others.

Hiawatha: Figure associated with the Iroquois Confederacy. In some stories, he becomes a cannibal who is rescued by Deganawida.

Kokopelli: Hunch-backed flute player; he is a fertility god who dates back to the time of the Anasazi.

Raven: Culture hero of the Inuit, as well as a trickster in many stories from the American Northwest. He has the ability to transform himself from a bird into a man.

Quetzalcoatl: One of the oldest gods in Mesoamerica, he is found in virtually every culture in the region. His name means “Plumed Serpent.”

With every stop on this journey, you’ll be treated to fascinating stories, review parallels to other creation and Bible stories, and learn how every set of mythologies has been integrated and adopted to newcomers and the passage of time.

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60 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    The Titans in Greek Mythology
    Welcome to the ancient Greek myths: some of the most popular, well-known stories in Western civilization. When did these tales emerge, and what are our earliest sources for them? Find out in this lecture on father-son conflicts between Uranus, Kronos, Zeus, and the other first-generation gods known as the Titans. x
  • 2
    Complex Goddesses: Athena, Aphrodite, Hera
    Meet three iconic goddesses whose personalities and stories reflect how the ancient Greeks viewed women. They are: Athena, who emerged fully-formed from Zeus's head and is linked to legal courts; Aphrodite, best known for her wild love affair with Adonis; and Hera, Zeus's wife-sister, who presides over marriage and childbirth. x
  • 3
    Gods and Humanity in Greek Thought
    Discover fresh insights into several Greek myths that teach us about the relationship between gods and humans. Is Prometheus a troublemaker (according to Hesiod) or a liberator (according to Aeschylus)? What happened after Pandora's box of evil spirits was opened? How did Persephone's kidnapping inspire the Eleusinian Mysteries? x
  • 4
    Herakles and the Greek Hero
    Investigate the mythological roots and legacies of the powerful - but flawed - Greek hero, Herakles. Explore common threads that run through some of his twelve labors, including the slaying of the Hydra and the cleaning of the Augean stables. Also, ponder Herakles's role in ancient Greek society as both mortal and god. x
  • 5
    Odysseus, Master of Schemes
    Turn now to the hero of Homer's celebrated Odyssey: Odysseus. From his plans for the Trojan horse to his tricking of a murderous cyclops to his final arrival back in Ithaca, learn how Odysseus's scheming and lying led to heroic triumphs that made his story relatable to everyday ancient Greeks - and to modern readers. x
  • 6
    The Golden Fleece and the Hero's Return
    An altogether different - and darker - mythological adventure story is Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece. In pondering the best-known versions of both Jason's story and his wife, Medea's, you'll begin to see Jason as a failed hero and Medea as more than just the woman who murdered her own children. x
  • 7
    Romulus, Remus, and Rome's Origins
    Not all Roman mythology is indebted to Greece. Focus on several uniquely Roman myths about the empire's founding, including the lives of the brothers Romulus and Remus and the abduction of the Sabine women. What's the difference between creation and origin stories? What are some traditional mythic elements we find in ancient Rome? x
  • 8
    Roman Heroes and Traitors
    Discover why Aeneas, the ancestor of all Romans, and Tarpeia, who betrayed Rome for personal gain, are two sides of the same coin. As you explore their stories, you'll see how they offer inspirational (and cautionary) testaments to Rome's values - and reflect character types we see in almost every civilization's myths. x
  • 9
    The Mother Goddess in Rome and Beyond
    What does Cybele reveal about the great mother goddesses of mythological traditions? Learn how this classic figure evolved over thousands of years, how it adapted to different cultures, how it became connected in Rome with power and aristocracy, and where it appears (and doesn't appear) in other human cultures. x
  • 10
    The Dagda's Harp and Other Celtic Myths
    Using the intriguing tale of Dagda and his magic harp as a framework, Professor McClymond introduces you to the often unappreciated world of Celtic mythology. Meet unforgettable heroes like Cu Chulainn and Lugh, and encounter powerful magical items and treasures with unique personalities, including the Stone of Fal. x
  • 11
    Norse Tales of Odin and Thor
    Dark and brooding, Norse mythology reflects the harsh living conditions of ancient Germanic and Scandinavian people. Here, focus on two of the most well-known Norse gods: Odin (the god of war who sacrificed himself on a tree) and Thor (the god of order who wields his dwarf-crafted hammer, Mjolnir). x
  • 12
    Hammers, Rings, and Other Norse Magic
    Skidbladnir, the ship of the gods that can also fit in your pocket. Andvarinaut, a powerful ring that inspired a cycle of mythological stories. These and other magical items are the prized possessions of Norse kings, warriors, and heroes. And their importance - and legacies - are the subject of this final lecture. x
  • 13
    The World's Oldest Myth: Gilgamesh
    Start these riveting lectures at the only appropriate point: the oldest story in the world. In looking at the epic of Gilgamesh, you'll learn how this foundational Babylonian myth reflects real historical tensions between ancient Eastern city-states; tensions mirrored in the myth's concerns with civilized - and untamed - human nature. x
  • 14
    The Babylonian Creation Story
    Where did ancient Babylonians believe the world came from? What startling similarities does their account have with the Bible's? Explore these and other questions in this look at the Enuma Elish, a sophisticated creation story (or cosmogony) that casts the average Babylonian as a mere afterthought in the eyes of the gods. x
  • 15
    Chaos and Order in Egypt
    Perpetual violence. A destructive struggle between order and chaos. Welcome to the mythography of ancient Egypt, which includes multiple creation stories tied to different city centers; a fantastic pantheon of gods; different historical and mythic time lines"; and maat, the overarching concept of morality and justice." x
  • 16
    Horus, Osiris, and Ra
    Focus on three Egyptian gods who are inextricably linked with the pharaohs. They are the murdered and resurrected Osiris, associated with nature; Horus, the sky god responsible for unifying Upper and Lower Egypt; and Ra, the popular sun god known for his nightly journeys through the land of the dead. x
  • 17
    Myths of the Pharaohs
    The pharaohs themselves played a vital role in Egyptian culture, maintaining cosmic order throughout the land. Investigate the lives and deaths (and possible afterlives) of several of ancient Egypt's 330 pharaohs, including King Amenhotep IV, who tried to become a supreme god, and Cleopatra, the civilization's last pharaoh. x
  • 18
    The Book of Job
    Examine the biblical Book of Job through a mythological lens and learn how it addresses the same basic questions of other myths. How do Job's trials and tribulations at the hand of the Hebrew god force us to look at the world - and our role within it - from a fresh perspective? x
  • 19
    The Great Indian Epics
    Get inside Indian culture with this lecture on its two great epics: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Both are frame narratives that bring together hundreds of smaller stories. Both help establish Vishnu's importance among other Hindu gods. And both have had a lasting effect on Indian spirituality, politics, and literature. x
  • 20
    The Bhagavad Gita
    Turn now to a section of the Mahabharata known as the Bhagavad Gita. You'll peel back the layers behind the popular story of the warrior Arjuna; learn how to read the Gita as a devotional story and a manual for life; and discover how it shaped Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy. x
  • 21
    Stories of the Buddha
    According to Professor McClymond, it's best to understand the mythology of Buddhism as a grand anthology of short stories. With this in mind, explore the life and beliefs of the Buddha, ponder the teachings of Buddhist myth as told through its stories, and examine stories that pit Buddhism against other religious traditions. x
  • 22
    Persia's Book of Kings
    The Book of Kings is widely regarded as the national epic of the world's Persian-speaking community. Go inside this 11th-century epic poem that traces 50 generations of Persian kings and heroes, including Rostam - whom you'll follow on his famous seven labors" and his battle with the crown prince of Persia." x
  • 23
    One Thousand and One Nights
    Can an overwhelmingly secular text be read as mythology? Find out in this lecture on the One Thousand and One Nights, known in the West as The Arabian Nights. You'll get insights into great heroes like Sindhbad the sailor, mythical creatures like jinns, and the text's use of the supernatural to provide real-world guidance. x
  • 24
    Tales of Flood and Fire
    Fire and flood are universal images, so it's not surprising that many myth traditions in South Asia and the Middle East include them in their stories of destruction and eventual renewal. See this powerful theme at work in Gilgamesh, Zoroastrian mythology, and the Buddha's Sermon of the Seven Suns."" x
  • 25
    The Beauty of African Mythology
    Jump right into the distinctive elements of African mythology with the story of Shango - a fearsome king of the city-kingdom of Oyo who later became a god. Explore how the cyclical structure of the story is another distinctive feature of African myths. Rather than moving in a straight line, African myths may start in the middle, seem to end, circle back to the beginning, and then reach a conclusion. x
  • 26
    African Creation Stories
    Many myths found across the globe wrestle with the concept of how the world started. African mythology is no exception, embracing a variety of philosophies including ex nihilo (out of nothing") myths, chaos stories, and cosmology tales to explain our existence. " x
  • 27
    African Religious Cosmology
    The hierarchy of African religious myths is similar to that of many Western cultures. A single god occupies a high position of authority, responsible for the overall creation of the world. In variations across Africa, this supreme creator has many different names and stories. Learn about Cagn, Jok, Ngewo, and others, as well as a plethora of lesser divinities, sprit beings, and the emergence of shamans. x
  • 28
    Tricksters of Africa
    Tricksters are prevalent in mythologies around the world. From Anansi the Trickster spider to Norse Loki and Japanese Susa-no-wo, the archetype of the Trickster has resonated in storytelling worldwide. Tricksters in African myth are unrepentant troublemakers who are skilled at deception, just as they are in other folkloric traditions around the world. Often humorous, they can be interpreted as representing basic human needs, drives, and weaknesses to provide explanations for calamities and injustices. x
  • 29
    Africa's Gods and Humanity
    A recurring theme in African myth is the physical separation between the original creator god and humanity and how that separation came about. While there are parallels to biblical stories of the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the many ways in which theme is explored and retold offer interesting insights into the cultural framework behind it. x
  • 30
    Close Encounters with African Divinities
    Lesser divinities are often heavily involved in human affairs, even going so far as to wed or otherwise have close relations with mortals. The interactions between African gods and mortals express many different ideas about the relationship between mortal life and the divine. Examine the stories of Mregho and Ruwa, Miseke and Thunder, goddesses and mortals, and how Tricksters get involved in mortal relationships. x
  • 31
    Culture Heroes of African Myth
    The earliest superheroes were the cultural heroes of mythology. Although they are known for playing pivotal parts in the founding of societies, it is often impossible to know whether they actually ever existed. And fact-based or not, they inevitably capture something essential about the characters of the societies that tell them. Compare the Mongo story of Lonkundo, the Maasai story of Le-eyo, the Fon story of Sogbo, the Kikuyu story of Wanjiru, the Bushongo story of Shamba Bolongongo, and more. x
  • 32
    The African Morality Tale
    Myths about the creation of the world or the establishment of a society provide people with an important sense of shared origins and beliefs. Stories play an essential role in maintaining a code of behavior and morals and in exploring the inevitable gray areas that lead to disputes. In many cases, morality tales provide no clear right or wrong answers, but invite listeners to seek answers in discussions with one another and in their own broader explorations of the nature of truth and virtue. x
  • 33
    The Dausi and African Epics
    The epic looms large as a storytelling genre in world mythology, and not only because its characters and tales are usually so memorable. Because of their customary length and level of detail, epics often provide a more comprehensive sense of the early cultures that spawned them than any other literary form, and many appear to incorporate genuine historical information. African mythology contains numerous captivating epics. Explore what is known of an ancient and powerful one: the Dausi. x
  • 34
    The Epic of Bakaridjan Kone
    The epic of Bakaridjan Kone is much more recent than the Dausi, but it comes from almost the same part of Africa. Much of its history was wracked by war and tensions with the peoples of the surrounding communities, many of whom had been converted to Islam. Bakaridjan's story bears clear traces of the strong Muslim influence in that society. x
  • 35
    Death and the Afterlife in African Myth
    Since the goal of mythology is often to provide reason to the unexplainable, it is no surprise that death and the afterlife are major themes throughout African stories, expressing yearning for immortality and questioning why we die. These myths draw blatant links between the importance of following divine instructions and adhering to communal law, the consequences of human disobedience, and what is in store for us in the great beyond. x
  • 36
    African Heroes in the Underworld
    In African mythology, as in myths around the world, it's not uncommon to find characters traveling to the land of the dead to face an ultimate challenge and experiencing a transformation as a result. Become familiar with three African mythological characters who brave the land of the dead, and witness how the experience affects them. Explore the deeper meaning of those visits by viewing them in the context of the greater journey that each character travels and the challenges that he or she faces along the way. x
  • 37
    Culture and Cosmos in Chinese Mythology
    Begin your journey into the mythology of Asia and the Pacific with the story of Fu Xi, which illustrates a profound truth about both Chinese society and the mythology of the Pacific Rim: culture and human relations come first. See how the importance of social networks, the omnipresence of water, and the value of sacrifice comprise the three key motifs of the myths of this region. x
  • 38
    Chinese Heroes, Kings, and Destroyers
    Chinese myths about the feats of culture heroes and the deeds of rulers, while relating stories about how things came to be, also engage with questions of what ought to be. Utopian stories of sage-kings are often told alongside dystopian tales of degenerate leaders. Explore the legends of the three revered kings Yao, Shun, and Yu the Great, and those of the two degenerates Jie and Zhou Xin. x
  • 39
    Peasant Folktales and Chinese Scholarship
    After centuries of oral retellings, the myths and sayings of rural peasants were transformed into formal verse by scholars, becoming the foundation for a highly sophisticated and nuanced body of writing that profoundly shaped subsequent literature. Unfortunately, much of the originality and charm of the myths was often removed in the name of moral lessons. x
  • 40
    Spirits and Syncretism in Korean Myth
    Early Koreans interacted with the spirit world through spirit mediums, primarily women, who perform shamanic rituals and preserve cultural knowledge even up to the modern day. These traditions incorporate religious, mythological, and scholarly borrowings from Japan and China into a distinctively Korean syncretic blend. x
  • 41
    Korea's Warring Kingdoms and Flying Dragons
    Meet some pivotal figures of Korean mythology: the mythical culture hero Mireuk and his rival Seokga, the legendary king Hyokkose of Silla, and the self-sacrificing magistrate Pak Che-sang. Consider the porous border between mythology and history, and learn a trick for telling which myths have been altered by scholars. x
  • 42
    Japanese Tales of Purity and Defilement
    Prepare yourself for stories of decaying goddesses, befouled maidens from the underworld, deities emerging from a parent's dirty nostrils, and the contamination of the gods' most sacred spaces with divine excrement. The mythology of this culture, which prizes purity and has strong pollution taboos, is not for the squeamish. x
  • 43
    Gods, Rice, and the Japanese State
    Discover how centuries of borrowing religious and political mythology from China and Korea led to a syncretic blending of political myth-making that was heavily influenced by Buddhism and Confucianism. Consider the dynastic myth of Okuninushi and his 80 brothers, and compare it to the story of the brothers Hoderi-no-mikoto and Hoori-no-mikoto. x
  • 44
    Nature Gods and Tricksters of Polynesia
    Polynesian tales center around spirits of the natural world, some of whom are compassionate helper-deities and some, like the nasty menehune, that delight in causing trouble. Meet the supreme figures Ku and Hina, who have myriad subordinate versions; Lono, who has power over seas, clouds, and storms; and Maui, an inveterate Trickster who brings many gifts to humanity. x
  • 45
    Creation and Misbehavior in Micronesia
    Compare versions of the same myths found all over Micronesia, such as the creation story of the cosmic spider and the rebellious acts of the Trickster Olofat. Consider how the missionaries, anthropologists, and other Westerners who recorded these myths left their own indelible marks. x
  • 46
    Melanesian Myths of Life and Cannibalism
    Delve into variations of myths about the sun and moon, how humans and other creatures were created, and how death came into the world. Learn about the development of anthropology as a field of study, and see how cross-cultural misconceptions and fascinations can fuel false reports. x
  • 47
    Origins in Indonesia and the Philippines
    Examine many variants on common mythological themes in this region: accounts of humanity emerging from eggs, intricate tales of the origins of different animals, and stories of how humans acquired (or reacquired) fire. Compare Trickster tales of the clever, delicate mouse-deer with those of the mischievous ape. x
  • 48
    Aboriginal and Colonial Myths of Australia
    Australian mythology, like its wildlife, has features found nowhere else. Discover the mysterious underworld, from where most of life arose from the ground; encounter the Totemic Ancestors; hear tales of the creation of the world during Dream Time; and explore the mystical songlines. Another mind-bending aspect of Australian mythology: colonial occupiers who create their own myths. x
  • 49
    Nature in Native American Myth
    Nature spirits take on a variety of forms in various cultures. Discover the maize myths and other stories about the origins of nature in the Americas. Learn how these stories demonstrate the way people answered questions about how the world came to be as it is. x
  • 50
    Inuit and Northern Forest Mythology
    Hear a riveting Inuit story of Sedna, the Old Woman (or Earth Mother) who lives under the sea. You'll also encounter the Nanabushu stories and the archetype of the Trickster, who is often a cultural hero, responsible for aiding in the creation of what we know today. x
  • 51
    Tales and Rituals of the Iroquois League
    Get an introduction to the earth-diver" creation myths, and learn how many other peoples near the Iroquois and far away tell the same kind of story. You'll also consider myths that deal with the founding of various groups - different from what we normally think of as Native American myths, since they deal not with the long-ago mythic past but rather with a more recent, historical past." x
  • 52
    Southeast Amerindian Origin Stories
    The Southeast region of the United States was home to many different Native American cultures. Five major languages were spoken in the area, and a sign language was invented for easier inter-group communication. Learn how the constant cultural exchange resulted in an encompassing body of myths that tie the peoples together. x
  • 53
    Mythology of the Plains Peoples
    Journey through the Great Plains to look at new myths involving creatures and environments that can't be duplicated in other regions. Hear the fascinating story of the Buffalo Woman, and learn the way myths not only connect different groups of people, but also serve as a beacon of individuality. x
  • 54
    Amerindian Tales from the Northwest
    Life on the Northwest coast did not fit our image of typical Native American civilizations. Learn about how myths helped create these societies, villages, governing systems, and even an economic hierarchy that you don't see duplicated in many other regions, but remarkably mirrors some aspects of broader society today. x
  • 55
    The Navajo Emergence Myth
    Revisit the concept of "earth-diver" and "emergence" origin stories and see how they differ in the Southwest as you explore "air-spirit people" and their intriguing fables. Gain a deeper understanding of the duality of the Trickster as he both thwarts and contributes to the cultivation of the world. x
  • 56
    Stories of the Pueblo
    Explore an excellent example of an emergence myth from the Zuni people, involving Awonawilona All-Father, his two boys, and the first writhing creatures of the deep. Compare this to a similar story from the Hopi, which stars Tewa the Sun Spirit, the culture hero Spider Grandmother, and Masauwu the Skeleton Man. x
  • 57
    Native American Tricksters
    Go in-depth with the Trickster archetype. Although not exclusive to Northern American tales, the Trickster is the most popular character in Native American myths. There are likely more stories about him than about anyone else. x
  • 58
    The Maya and the Popol Vuh
    Travel down to South and Central America to learn about the Maya, the Aztecs, and the Incas. While there are many shared stories and common origins, these people maintain cultures and myths that are significantly different from those of their cousins to the north. x
  • 59
    Aztec Myth Meets Hernan Cortes
    Mesoamericans gods have several manifestations" or "aspects," and each different manifestation has a different appearance, different powers, and is responsible for different things. Meet some of the major characters, and learn how to follow the stories in all their iterations. " x
  • 60
    Inca Myth as Imperial Mandate
    Comparing the Incas to the Roman Empire, you'll find some fascinating parallels, both in history and in mythology. Hear the Kolla creation story from the Incas, based on their understanding of their world, which can still speak to us across the years. x

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Your professors

Grant L. Voth Kathryn  McClymond Julius H. Bailey Robert Andre LaFleur

Professor 1 of 4

Grant L. Voth, Ph.D.
Monterey Peninsula College

Professor 2 of 4

Kathryn McClymond, Ph.D.
Georgia State University

Professor 3 of 4

Julius H. Bailey, Ph.D.
University of Redlands

Professor 4 of 4

Robert Andre LaFleur, Ph.D.
Beloit College
Dr. Grant L. Voth is Professor Emeritus at Monterey Peninsula College in California. He earned his M.A. in English Education from St. Thomas College in St. Paul, MN, and his Ph.D. in English from Purdue University. Throughout his distinguished career, Professor Voth has earned a host of teaching awards and accolades, including the Allen Griffin Award for Excellence in Teaching, and he was named Teacher of the Year by the...
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Professor Kathryn McClymond is Chair and Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Georgia State University, where she has taught since 1999. Professor McClymond graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in History and Literature and later pursued her M.A. and Ph.D. in Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her focus was on comparative ritual studies, with an emphasis...
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Professor Julius H. Bailey is a Professor of Religion at the University of Redlands. He received a B.A. in Religious Studies from Occidental College and an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research interests include African mythology, African American religious history, and new religious movements. He teaches courses on varied aspects of religion. Professor...
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Professor Robert André LaFleur is Professor of History and Anthropology at Beloit College in Wisconsin, where he has taught since 1998. Having graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Carleton College, Professor LaFleur received his doctorate from The University of Chicago’s John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, where he combined work in three distinct fields: anthropology, history, and Chinese...
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Great Mythologies of the World is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 22.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great survey course the professor is very knowledgeable and lectures are interesting sparking further study. A great asset for seniors like myself since we can't attend more formal on campus lectures during this pandemic. I highly recommend this program
Date published: 2020-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I was a little familiar with Greek mythology, but this course taught me so much more.
Date published: 2020-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating subject I'm only in to the second disc, but am enjoying learning. It wasn't what I was expecting, but it is a great subject. Looking forward to watching the rest.
Date published: 2020-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! We have watched over 60 courses, and this is one of our all-time favorites, right up there with John McWhorter and Kenneth Harl.
Date published: 2019-10-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Myth Placed This is a very ambitious (and long) set of lectures that serve as a grand survey of all (all) the great myths of the world...I suppose we just don't think about the myths that aren't so great? The lectures are divided between four knowledgeable and well organized lecturers...Profs McClymond, Bailey, LaFleur and Voth (sounds kind of like a law practice). Only Bailey is sub-par on delivery...his was probably the most difficult lecture subject (Africa). Each lecturer provides some historical background, but not enough. We in the West are most familiar with 'our' myths, so they are much easier to consume and assume context...Dr McClymond presentation was clear and effective, India included. After that, the context becomes a bit more cloudy and we (the audio audience) begin to focus more on the actual myths and remain fuzzy on the historical background (for me, that was the whole of Africa)...perhaps I was holding out for the Myth of the Black Panther. Dr Bailey seemed to be reading from a fairly monotonous script, and his material sounded repetitive. Dr LaFleur introduced me to the Far East and Pacifica myths, again with little historical context...except that the Chinese culture seemed to dominate both Korea and Japan. Dr Voth, as always, finished quite well, presenting the little known, but still great, myths (at least to me) of the Americas. Since I had recently listened to Dr Barnhart's Americas lectures, I more easily followed the myth stories. Time in these lectures is somewhat blended such that one cannot easily tell what are 'original' myths and what are 'borrowed'. This, then, brings me to my takeaway for this course: Taken as a whole, all these matter the region of the world... represent a type of religion, that at one time was considered the 'gospel'. Notwithstanding the great value in attempting to provide moral guidance, we look at these myths as beliefs that may have been borne of innocence, or at least a poor understanding of the roles of natural science in their daily lives. Taking that a step further, it is easy for me to conclude that all religions fall into the same mythical that, from some future historical philosopher's point of view, will be considered as just another story made-up by a people who just didn't 'get' it. Take a chance on these lectures (they are on sale as I type...with a coupon, no less...but try this. Separate the sectional lectures and include a set of lectures that survey the history from which the myths originated (similar to what I did with Dr Voth and Dr Barnhart's lectures). In addition, it will break up a rather long lecture series, and, perhaps, make you more appreciative of those regional myths.
Date published: 2019-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great reference I watched this on Great Courses Plus and knew that I had to have it in the collection. Besides reviewing Greek/Roman Mythology that we all know, Nordic, African and American Indian mythology is reviewed. The four Professors are very effective in their presentations. This is not a compilation of other courses in Creat Courses, by the way and sections stand alone.
Date published: 2019-04-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from All Cultures Value Stories! When I ordered “Great Mythologies of the World,” I was frankly skeptical that the presenters were going to be able to deliver a course that would seem thorough enough, even given sixty lectures on ten DVDs with which to work. The implications of mythology for culture, cosmology, religion, history, economic matters, and the arts seem so extensive as to make the task daunting. The assignment of several scholars, each with particular expertise re: a part of the world, was a winning strategy. When it comes to rating “Professor Presentation” as a whole, I can only average my impressions, as some of the lectures were better presented than others. My personal favourites were those by Dr. Grant L. Voth on myths of the Americas. The source materials from all parts of the world were extremely interesting throughout the course, however. I imagine that even more than sixty lectures could admirably have been filled. It would have been a helpful addition if all the professors had shared a final lecture as a panel, providing comparisons and contrasts for the material presented in their separate “blocks.” A side-by-side discussion of how each of them defines “myth” would have been especially relevant. All in all, I rate the instructional level of this course as good, with some peaks of excellence. It certainly is an important course; and I consider it a real “eye-opener” for me personally, since my own early exposure to the study of myths had been primarily about those of ancient Greece and Rome.
Date published: 2018-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging! Loved the lectures! So interesting you simply cannot stop watching... Thumbs up!
Date published: 2017-12-21
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